Imagine the setting: you’re playing a 480-yard par 5 and you have the chance to make the green in two. Only problem is that you’ve shanked your second shot left off the fairway and it’s gone sailing into the bunker to the left of the green.
So out comes the wedge and you’ve managed to chip it out onto the green with your third shot. That gives you a chance to lay it up with your fourth, and save par with an easy put on the fifth. You may not have achieved the birdie or even the eagle that you might have wanted, but you’ve recovered well enough that no damage has been done to your score.
That is the definition of scrambling in golf: recovering from an error to get back onto the green with enough shots in hand to save par. It’s a vital part of any golfer’s short game, but it’s especially important for advanced players with lower handicaps aiming to iron out errors in competition. This blog will explore how scrambling stats are calculated, and why it can be such an important measurement of your form and ability.
How do you calculate scrambling in golf?
A successful scramble is defined as a hole where a player has missed par despite missing the ‘green in regulation’ (reaching the green two shots before the par score, i.e. in two shots on a par 4). Penalty strokes often come into play with scrambles: as an example, if a tee shot on a par 4 is hit into the water or out of bounds, and the second shot is taken as a penalty stroke, then the player has missed GIR. If they’re then able to reach the green with their third shot and save par with the fourth, then that would count as a successful scramble.
The calculation of scrambling statistics is relatively simple: the total number of successful scrambles is divided by the number of scrambles attempted, and then multiplied by 100 to generate a scrambling figure as a percentage. For example, if a player had attempted 40 scrambles over the course of the season, and had been successful with eight of them, then their scrambling average would be 20%.
The pros of scrambling
Views on the value of scrambling statistics are mixed, but there are some benefits to it. In particular, a high percentage highlights that a player has elements of their short game dialled in well, as they’re able to use their irons and wedges to good effect to recover from difficult positions. This can also be beneficial to a player’s mental strength, as they don’t have to worry so much about the damage caused by a wayward drive.
It’s also possible to view scrambling stats another way. If a player is attempting a high number of scrambles (regardless of how successful they are) then it indicates problems with their long game because they’re getting themselves into regular trouble in the first place.
The cons of scrambling
There are, on the other hand, some flaws with the scrambling average system. This is especially the case with players who have middling or higher handicaps, who are unlikely to reach greens in regulation even if they’re playing well. Scrambling figures aren’t really valuable or relevant when the vast majority of holes technically count as scrambles.
It also can’t be used as a total representation of a player’s short game: that’s because it doesn’t take into account putting performance on the occasions when players do hit greens in regulation.
Overall, while scrambling averages can highlight some specific areas of a player’s game where they’re doing well, and others where they can improve, they shouldn’t be used as a major indicator of overall performance.
Variations of scramble golf
Where a lot of confusion arises is that scrambling in golf also has a second meaning, particularly in the United States. Scrambling can also refer to a type of play that’s often used in amateur tournaments for teams of three or four players.
Within a scrambling game, each team nominates one player to play the opening drive off each hole. Where that drive lands is where every player on the team will then drop their balls and then play the rest of the hole from that place. It’s a system of equalisation that allows players whose driving isn’t as strong to contribute to their team and compete on a level playing field.
There are many variations of scramble golf, perhaps the most well-known being Texas Scramble. Here, the driving player on a team rotates from hole to hole, meaning that on a team of four, every player will be required to play a counting drive on at least four holes of an 18-hole course.
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